We, as a people and as individuals, understand life and life's realities in terms of freedom. We are free to think. We are free to chose. We are free to act. We are free to travel. We are free to use life in any way we wish. It is impossible for any of us to consider life and not assume freedom.

Far more than half of the world's population is not free. Few in the world are as free as we are. They are told what to think. They are told what decisions to make. They are told how to act. They are restricted in their travel. They are told how to use life. They assume nothing. Every day of their lives they basically live as they are told to live.

We regard such existence as terrible, but this is the truth: people in our society have been free so long that none of us can imagine that existence.

One of our greatest freedoms is the freedom of religion. We are free to believe anything we chose to believe. We are free to allow our faith to impact our lives and our behavior in any way we chose.

My question: is your faith free to grow and mature?

How much do you study the Bible? Do you read, or do you study? Do you study to understand? When you understand something new, are you free to believe your new understanding? Do more mature understandings liberate your faith?

  1. For example, are we free to believe anything the Bible teaches us about Jesus Christ?
    1. Before you say, "Of course!" think.
      1. As we think, the foundation for our thinking is this: what I believe must come from a serious study of the Bible and be based on an accurate understanding of its message. [Both are demanding!]
      2. As I grow in my faith, what may I believe?
        1. May I believe only what the church says I can believe?
        2. May I believe only what my congregation says I can believe?
        3. May I believe only what the elders say I can believe?
        4. May I believe only what the preacher says I can believe?
        5. May I believe only what my extended family says I can believe?
        6. May I believe only what my spouse says I can believe?
      3. Or, as a serious Bible student, may my faith grow and change as my knowledge and understanding of the Bible grows and changes?
        1. Knowledge is cumulative; the more I study, the more I know.
        2. Understanding is cumulative; the more I know, the more I understand.
        3. Thinking is cumulative; the more I know and understand, the deeper I think.
        4. Because those are cumulative, faith is cumulative; the more I know, understand, and think, the deeper my faith becomes.
    2. Saving faith begins with a very simple level of knowledge, understanding, and thinking.
      1. If I know God sent Jesus to be my Savior,
      2. If I understand Jesus' death and resurrection makes it possible for me to be forgiven,
      3. If in my thinking I realize my guilt, my need for forgiveness, and my need for Jesus Christ,
      4. I can accept Jesus and enter the salvation God provides.
        1. In faith and understanding, I can trust Jesus.
        2. In faith and understanding, I can repent [redirect my life].
        3. In faith and understanding, I can accept God's grace and enter Jesus through baptism.
      5. Once a person enters Jesus Christ, it is never a matter of "finding salvation;" it is a matter of spiritual maturing.
    3. As that maturing occurs, is my faith free to trust God and Jesus in the direction the Bible leads me?
      1. "David, what are you asking?"
      2. I am asking a crucial question that Christians in every congregation must face and must answer.
      3. There are many responses to that question, and two of those responses are spiritually destructive.
        1. Destructive response one: "You must believe only what you are told to believe in the congregation by the elders and the preacher."
          1. "No matter how much you study the Bible,"
          2. "No matter how much more you understand than the elders and the preachers,"
          3. "No matter how spiritually mature you are,"
          4. "You can only believe what you are told to believe."
          5. "The church is everything, and without the church you are nothing."
        2. Destructive response two: "Nobody can tell me what to believe."
          1. "Nobody has the right to influence my understanding and my faith."
          2. "I owe no one an explanation of what I believe."
          3. "What I believe is my business and no one else's business."
          4. "Spiritually, I can do without the congregation just fine."
        3. Both convictions, both attitudes are quite destructive.
          1. Both convictions and attitudes oppose God's purposes in Jesus Christ.
          2. Neither of those attitudes can accomplish God's will.
      4. To give perspective to the significance of those statements, if I publicly made those comments [perhaps even privately] in the early 1300's, I could anticipate execution.

  2. Perhaps an illustration is helpful.
    1. Years ago a person was quite upset with me for asking people to think and understand.
      1. He strongly objected to this approach to understanding God's will.
      2. In his past, the church throughout his home region established the "correct beliefs" of the Church of Christ.
        1. Faithfulness was determined by a Christian's agreement with those "correct beliefs."
        2. He invested a lot of time and effort in learning the "correct beliefs."
        3. He invested a lot of time and effort in learning the proper stands on the issues.
        4. He invested a lot of time and effort in learning how to defend the positions.
        5. He knew much more about the use of proof texts to defend "correct positions" than he understood about the message of the Bible.
        6. It took him years to learn that information.
        7. When anyone did anything that questioned any of his positions, he not only was distressed, but he became obviously angry.
      3. Faithful Christians were free to think, understand, and endorse what he thought, understood, and endorsed.
      4. To disagree with any position he held was to deny the faith.
    2. That raises a critical, essential question: by God's revelation and definition, what is the foundation of Christian faithfulness?
      1. In my understanding, in the New Testament there is one foundation for Christian faithfulness.
      2. The foundation of faithfulness is Jesus Christ.

  3. "David, I think you are putting too much emphasis on Jesus; the emphasis should be on the church."
    1. "Both surely should be emphasized, but the primary emphasis should be on the church."
      1. Let's ask some questions and note their answers.
      2. When we talk about the church, are we talking about a "who" or a "what?"
        1. In its earthly existence, we are talking about a "who."
        2. Then "who" is the church? Christians. Those people who acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus as the Christ and who were forgiven of their sins are the church.
        3. On earth, the church is composed of people.
      3. When we talk about Jesus Christ are we talking about a "who" or a "what?"
        1. We are talking about a "who."
        2. Then "who" is Jesus Christ? God's Son. God's sacrifice. Our Savior. The Lord. The resurrected one.
      4. What is the relationship between the church [people who are spiritually alive in Jesus] and Jesus Christ [God's Son]?
        1. The church is the body (Ephesians 1:23).
          1. Who is the head of the body (Ephesians 1:22)?
          2. Jesus Christ is the head of the body.
          3. To whom does the body belong? Jesus.
          4. The church is designed by God to be the fullness of Jesus Christ.
        2. The church is the bride (Revelation 21:2).
          1. Who is the husband of the bride?
          2. Revelation 21:9 says the bride is the wife of the Lamb.
          3. Who is the Lamb?
          4. Jesus is the Lamb of God.
        3. In both scriptures, the focus is on Jesus and his significance, and the church is clearly secondary.
        4. "Oh, but the church is the pillar and support of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15).
          1. Who is the truth?
          2. Jesus (John 14:6).

  4. I want to read to you from the gospel of John. Please read with me if you can. As you read or listen, ask, "How important is Jesus?" John records each of these statements as Jesus' own words.
    1. The passages of scripture to be read:
      1. John 5:19 Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner."
      2. John 5:30 "I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me."
      3. John 6:38 "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me."
      4. John 8:28 So Jesus said, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me."
      5. John 11:25,26 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?"
      6. John 12:49,50 "For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me."
      7. John 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
      8. John 14:10 "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works."
    2. In these readings, this is my understanding about Jesus:
      1. He did nothing without a clear directive from God.
      2. He did nothing on his own initiative.
      3. All he did was at the direction of and in full compliance with God's will.
      4. Everything he did was dedicated to God's will.
      5. He said only the things God taught him.
      6. The power of resurrection and the power of life is found in him.
      7. God reveals eternal life through him.
      8. He is the way, the truth, and the life, the only available access to God.
      9. He did God's will so perfectly that you can see God by looking at him.
    3. Since that is true:
      1. If I want to understand God's will, I start with Jesus.
      2. If I want to understand God's priorities, I start with Jesus.
      3. If I want to understand God's teachings, I start with Jesus.
      4. If I want to know how a human being lives perfectly for God's purposes, I start with Jesus.

We as the church are the body and bride of Jesus only if we reflect Jesus. If our faith is free to be everything God wants faith to be, we must see Jesus for who he is.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 11 March 2001
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